Saturday, December 31, 2016

Helpful Tools and Gadgets

As we prepare to launch "52 Weeks of Mason Jar Salads," I thought I would take a moment and mention a few helpful tools and gadgets you may want to have around for streamlined mason jar salad prep and storage!



I would say the most important prep tool (and skill) you will need at your disposal is a good, sharp knife and knowledge of how to use it.  There are so many opinions on which knife is the "best" knife, and honestly, I don't think there is a "right" answer to that question.  Knives are as unique as the cooks who use them, and my best advice is to use a knife you like chopping with.  :)  Simple as that!  If you don't have knives you like chopping with, or feel like you are ready for an upgrade, I would encourage you to pay a visit to your friendly neighborhood kitchen store and take different types and brands for a "test drive."  The best way to decide whether you like a knife is to chop up some veggies!

Regarding knife skills ... there are lots of ways to chop an onion, a carrot, a bunch of kale.  Some are more efficient than others, and if you are interested in learning some basic techniques, there are a myriad of YouTube videos out there to check out.  Otherwise, you could sign up for a knife skills class at your friendly neighborhood kitchen store - another great resource to learn how to safely and efficiently chop veggies for your salads!

Here are a few other prep tools I reach for again and again when prepping our weekly salads:

I use our salad spinner on a near-weekly basis for washing and drying our salad greens.  Salad spinners also do a great job of drying softer items such as canned beans, berries, or olives.  I'd encourage you to invest in a salad spinner if you don't already own one!

I luuuuuuuuurrrrve my stick blender.  It is the most awesome tool for so many things, including whipping up quick and simple homemade sauces and salad dressings!  (And the best part ... you don't even have to pre-chop ingredients such as garlic, fresh herbs, or shallots for your vinaigrettes!)  The stick blender allows me to emulsify the creamiest vinaigrettes and puree the smoothest sauces, while being quick and simple to clean up.  


I would guess the average home cook probably does not have a canning funnel laying around, but they are inexpensive and handy little buggers for packing mason jar salads.  I reach for the canning funnel most often when adding beans or grains to my salads.  Less mess!


Mason jar salad storage is relatively simple - you don't need much beyond a quart-sized container, and maybe one or two other small gadgets in order to pack an awesome lunch to go!


The classic mason jar salad container is, of course, a quart-sized, wide-mouth mason jar.  (Wide mouth v.v. important!  If you pick up regular mouth mason jars by mistake, I would recommend returning them - they are difficult to pack, and I'd bet it would be almost impossible to extract a mason jar salad from one of them!)  Tall, plastic quart containers are another option for those of you who may want a sturdier, lighter-weight salad transportation vessel.  They aren't quite as attractive as the mason jar, but infinitely more practical!

We love these little plastic 2 oz jars for packing nuts, crumbled bacon, or other small items we want to keep crunchy.  These little jars fit right inside the top of the mason jar or quart container, making it super-duper easy to grab-and-go those salads on busy mornings.

Some bulkier crunchy things such as pita chips, tortilla chips, or croutons pack best in a snack-size zip-top bag.  You can use the disposable kind, or invest in a few of the reusable ones that have a zipper or velcro closure, if you are feeling thrifty and/or environmentally-conscious.  We typically attach any crunchy things in snack-size bags to the salads using a garden-variety rubber band.  Having the crunchy things pre-packed and attached to the salads adds to the ease of grabbing that healthy lunch in the morning as you rush out the door.  No need to remember two containers!

Mason jar salads don't get soggy because you pack the dressing/sauce at the bottom of the jar, right?  Well ... sometimes that dressing or sauce gets a little stuck to the inside of the jar, leaving your salad underdressed and less delicious.  Bummer.  Solution?  Keep a narrow, long-handled spatula at work to get every last drop of your delicious salad dressing out of that jar and into your bowl.  (I keep a spatula in my pen cup at work ... it's kind of ridiculous, but also kind of awesome, if you ask me!)

See you tomorrow for week 1 of "52 Weeks of Mason Jar Salads!"

Food styling, photography, and infographics by Robert Campbell.

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